Amid renewed interest in local, cross-sector collaborations to improve public education, a team at Teachers College has done a critical review of research to learn from similar efforts undertaken over the past five or so decades. This working paper, the first in a series of reports commissioned by The Wallace Foundation, points to key obstacles these efforts have faced, with the hope that current efforts to improve public education carried out under the “collective impact” label can learn from and build on prior experience. The paper suggests that it is not enough to get well-intentioned people together; political challenges can be unpredictable, racial tensions can complicate efforts, and the persistent challenge of school improvement should not be underestimated. The authors note, however, that current collective impact efforts in education may have better outcomes than past efforts for several reasons, including:

  • The notion that “schools can do it alone” has receded;
  • New players, including mayors and city agencies, have become factors in education policy;
  • Many states and districts now have more sophisticated systems for collecting and analyzing student data; and
  •  Cities are embracing “the new localism”—the idea that they, rather than the federal government, are the best arena for creative solutions to big problems.